Sunday, December 2, 2007

Just fooling around

If you haven't looked at Google Earth, try it out. It is fascinating what you can do with satellite images. So, I was just playing with it and I found out a few things.
First, a BART rider has to walk across a pedestrian bridge to the stadium, a walk of abut 850 feet, as opposed to the distance the letter to the editor writer claimed on Saturday.
And, since I couldn't resist, I counted the number of parking spaces at the Coliseum just to see if Keith Wolff was quoting the right number. I didn't actually count every space, but I measured each row and divided by the width (8.5 feet) of their standard parking space. There are about 7400 spaces not counting the two small lots between the arena and the ballpark which are used by players and VIPs. Mr. Wolff and I agree.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Am I too hard on the A's?

I got a second hand comment that I was being too hard on the A's, that my position was too negative and that I should offer solutions to their problems. I thought I might respond to that because others might have the same reaction.
First off, the developer (A's) has a responsibility to design his project and to meet city standards. The city staff, council, and public do not design the project, but we can, and do, point out the deficiencies and allow the developer to make revisions to satisfy the concerns. A good developer listens to criticism and has the design team take corrective action in the design. This is standard procedure which has been used as long as the city has been in existence.
That does not mean we cannot offer suggestions. In fact, in my initial report, I suggested they incorporate the school into the stadium design. Baseball uses the stadium in the summer, at night, and on weekends generally. A school is open during the day and during fall, winter and spring. I thought an innovative design could place the school on the side of the stadium facing the homes with play fields serving the school during the day and maybe as staff parking during games. I told Lou Wolff that he would get more publicity from that school than from the stadium. I guess they didn't like my idea.
The person who thought I was too negative also brought up the idea of parking structures as a solution to the parking problem. On the surface that might seem a good idea, but there are real problems of ingress and egress, getting in and out, for the large number of cars on game days. Can you imagine bringing in large numbers of cars before a game? That would be a lot easier than getting out after the game. Imagine you get to your car and try to back out when everyone is trying to get out at the same time. It is a logistics nightmare. The only real answer to the parking dilemma is large, flat parcels of land with multiple lanes in and out. To meet city standards, they would have to use almost all of the land designated for residential in the project.

Friday, November 30, 2007

An update on my parking report

In my report an available parking within a mile of the ballpark, I listed the Creative Labs building with 660 spaces possibly available. It has a sign designating it as for lease as something called "Pacific Park." I called the broker and left a voice mail message asking whether they planned retail or office/R&D. I got a response yesterday that the plan is for retail. That means use by the A's would be in direct conflict with the retail need for parking, so I removed those spaces from my calculation. Now there are a maximum of 3539 spaces which might be available to the A's in the evenings and on weekends. I doubt they could get agreements on half of those spaces, meaning they could never replace their interim parking on 5 of their residential areas.
In the Argus article, Keith Wolff is quoted as saying they might use some of the parking in their commercial area. The zoning code requires one space for each 250 square feet of leasable space. The A's propose about 700,000 square feet, so they would be required to include 2800 parking spaces. Now I never ran a business and I never dealt in real estate development, but I do have a modicum of common sense. If I am trying to lease space in a shopping center to a high end tenant and I tell him that for at least 81 days a year (more if the team makes the playoffs and the World Series), during prime shopping time, customers who are able to make it to your store through the traffic jams, won't be able to park near your store because we are using it for ball game parking. It doesn't take much imagination to guess whether that tenant will sign a lease on the site.
That's what is so frustrating about this whole project. They keep glossing over serious issues. I can't imagine people with sound business sense can keep pushing at this without addressing the problems first.
I can imagine a Harvard Business School Case Study. Objective-Build a new, modern, state of the art baseball stadium. Build it 25 miles away from the city whose name is on the jerseys. Put it somewhere where there is no public transit, where the streets and freeways are already operating at Level of Service F (well over design capacity.) Provide insufficient parking and make sure that most of the parking is more than 3/4 of a mile from the stadium. Fund it with the profits from constructing homes in a dense community in a down housing market. And, by the way, 15% of your housing has to be affordable to people of low and moderate income, which means you sell those homes at a loss. And, because you don't have enough parking, take 30-40% of the residential area and use it for interim parking until you can replace it, but there is no place nearby to find enough parking spaces to replace it. Place the stadium so that it clogs the access to the automobile sales district which provides a huge portion of the city sales tax revenue and why not also clog the access to Costco, Lowes, Kohl's, and a myriad of other outlets, recently called by the city manager "a sales tax machine." Build this whole project in an area where the property taxes do not accrue to the city but require the city to provide all the urban services it requires. Your assignment with this case study is to tell us why the stadium project failed and what the developer could have done to make it work in the first place.
Now that I wrote all that, I almost forgot my point, which is, someone in the City of Fremont hierarchy needs to ask the right questions, and to follow up on them. They cannot accept "off the cuff" answers, even at this early stage. Where is the parking? How do you intend to secure the lots of those properties you use? Will people have to pay to park a mile away and walk? What does the impact of all these pedestrians have on the traffic on Auto Mall as thousands of people cross the street to get to the game? What will it require from the police department to control the intersections? What affect does the use of police officers there have on the balance of the community? Each answer leads to another question and we ought to be getting answers now, not waiting until the EIR is done. The EIR will only raise more questions, so the more we answer now the better off we'll be.

Observations on a long drive

I came back last night from Santa Barbara where Jan and I, along with two other members of their firm, facilitated a day and a half long conference with 7 city councils, city managers, and city attorneys. It was conducted at a retreat center, Casa de Maria, in a beautiful spot outside Santa Barbara. Rustic, and stark accommodations, but good meeting facilities and a nice place to get away from the pressures of everyday business. It went well and I came away, again, impressed with the quality of local governments from smaller cities, like Pismo Beach, to the larger ones like San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, and Ventura. Good, smart people.
I drove down, 300 miles from Fremont in 5 hours. My GPS took me off 101 and over San Marcos Pass through the Los Padres National Forest. That segment made me wonder what the first Spanish explorers thought as they first saw this beautiful state.
And the drive down 101 was almost pleasant. The farmland abounds and one wonders how we can have 35 million people in the state and so few of them along 101, especially south of Salinas. And on the way back, I found the perfect off ramp, in Soledad. Two gas stations and a drive thru Starbucks.
I turned off 101 onto 880 at 5:58 PM and it took me 31 minutes to get to Auto Mall Parkway. I wonder what time a San Jose resident will have to leave home to get to the ballpark for a 7 PM start?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Update, and an apology

When I started this on-line newsletter, I didn't intend it to be always about the A's coming to Fremont. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of my time these days is spent messing around, in some way with the issue. So, give us some time to deal with this one and I'll try to add some variety as time goes on.

In a unique bit of irony, we now have a family situation regarding the A's. Jim Cunneen, a former Assemblymember now doing governmental relations for the A's, approached John Dutra looking to retain him to help with their project. John wasn't interested, but he referred Cunneen to Gloria. After a discussion, the A's retained Gloria's firm, TBW, to do public relations for the project. Gloria and I talked and since she has two college students (well, Meghan is going to graduate school in the fall), rent to pay, and no pensions coming in, she should work on it so long as we don't ever talk about it. It has been hard, kind of like ignoring an elephant in the room, but we have kept the issue from our conversations. I tell people that I taught her everything she knows, but I didn't teach her everything I know.

My work with Management Partners and Jan Perkins is ramping up. I did a boards and commission training for the City of Albany a month ago (this one with Les White, former city manager of San Jose) and this week I will participate in a council training workshop for seven cities including Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach, Morrow Bay, Goleta, and, for some reason, Santa Rosa. This will be a two day session in Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Thursday.

All else is well. I try to get to the gym every other day and I have lost about 30 pounds since July. Both Meghan and Garrett came home for Thanksgiving and we had a nice quiet day of family and turkey at Gloria's. They both will come home for Christmas again. Garrett is at Pacific Northwest Art College in Portland and Meghan is living in Brooklyn and working for the Episcopal Diocese in Manhattan while she applies to grad school, probably at one of three universities in New York, Columbia is one and I'm not sure of the other two. A writer and an artist - I asked if at least one of them would take something that might lead to employment upon graduation. There was no good answer.

More on Parking and the A's

The very first report I prepared about the A’s focused on parking and the critical deficit at the location. The plan submitted by the A’s delineated 5800 spaces, with almost half located across Auto Mall Parkway approximately ¾ of a mile from the stadium. The city requirement is one space for each 4 seats in the stadium; ergo 8000 spaces would be required to meet that standard. Unfortunately, that standard is woefully short when one considers that there is no viable alternative to the automobile to get to the stadium. According to the A’s, people arrive at an average of 2.3 people per car (thereby able to use the car pool lanes on the freeway.) This would require parking for 13913 cars, not counting cars for employees, concessionaires, ushers, groundskeepers, players, or even owners.

The response from the A’s was to propose to use 5 of their “residential neighborhoods” as interim parking, thereby providing enough parking to meet the city requirement. This interim parking arrangement would increase the number of spaces to just over 10,000, clearly still short of the number needed. When asked what happens to the parking when it is time to develop as residential, the response was “we will not develop those until we have replaced the lost parking.” When asked how, the response was “We will negotiate agreements with business parks within a mile of the stadium to use some of the 20,000 spaces in their parking lots in the evenings and weekends when they are not using them.”

This response triggered several questions in my mind. Are there 20,000 spaces within a mile? Do they lend themselves to use by the A’s? Was this response thought out or was it simply a flippant response? I decided to address those questions.

My methodology was first to establish the “one mile” limit, which I assume is the limit one could expect a fan to walk from the parking space. Using Google Earth software, I measured one mile walking distance from the stadium site, in each direction. The result led me a half mile north of Auto Mall on Christy and Albrae, along Auto Mall to Boyce, and north on Boscell to Boscell Common. I chose to eliminate retail areas because those parking lots would be needed by the retailers in the evening and on weekends. This eliminated most of the parking lots south of Auto Mall. The closest major business parking south of Auto Mall is Lam Research on Cushing, more than a mile away.

Again, using Google Earth and personal observation of the locations, I identified each parcel as to current use and ownership. I then counted each space on each parcel within the one mile limit.

I counted, within a one mile walk of the stadium entrance, approximately 4199 total parking spaces which could be contracted for use by the A’s, not 20,000 as claimed by the A’s. And, I would assume not all of the owners would agree to such use or that tenant leases would permit property owners to enter into such agreements. I believe many property owners would not be comfortable with threats to building security, with large numbers of people wandering through their parking lots late at night, with tailgating parties and the resultant mess, or with the inconveniences of mixing the normal Silicon Valley use with a parking lot for a sports venue. Some properties, including the Creative Labs building, are subject to change in use making their use for parking uncertain at this point. Let me discuss each parcel individually below.

1. Lincoln Business Park at the corner of Auto Mall and Christy. This site is fully developed and contains approximately 591 spaces.
2. Creative Labs on Auto Mall Parkway. This building is vacant, but has a sign (Cornish and Carey) identifying it as “Pacific Park.” There are 660 spaces on site. Should it be converted to retail, they would not be available, but I counted them as available. In the satellite photo, the back property line is striped as if for parking, but on site examination revealed the stripes are only five or six feet apart, too small for parking spaces for anything but a motorcycle. To determine capacity, I measured the length of the property and divided by 9 feet, the width of a standard parking space.
3. Weyerhauser on Albrae. This is a recycling business and there are 37 parking spaces on it.
4. Fremont Business Park and Pacific Commerce Center on Christy, north of Albrae. I counted these sites together before I visited the site. There are a total of 516 spaces between the two properties.
5. Nationwide Boiler on Christy north of the sites in item 4. This is a manufacturing/distribution site and there are 33 spaces in front of the facility.
6. Christy Business Park on Christy north of Nationwide Boiler. The one mile limit divides this property in half. I counted the half within the limit and found 206 spaces.
7. Scholastic, across Christy from the Christy Business Park. This property is also bisected by the one mile limit and there are 120 spaces on it.
8. O’Neill Relocation south of Scholastic on Christy. This seems to be a storage facility and I did not deem it amenable to casual usage by the property owner.
9. Sanmina-SCI/Oviso, south of O’Neill on Christy. I couldn’t identify what kind of use this is, but there are 400 parking spaces with many big trucks. I counted the spaces, but I question its availability.
10. Then, on to Boscell. The first site is Aer Worldwide, just past the Starbucks. It is a freight forwarding company and I counted 51 spaces.
11. On Boscell Common at the one mile limit, there are a series of very small businesses, including a tow company and two auto storage areas. I counted around 100 spaces.
12. Then coming back toward Auto Mall on the west side of the street, the first business is Auto Mall RV & Boat Storage which is fully utilized and has only a few customer spaces in front of the office, 0 available to the A’s.
13. South of the RV storage lot is Dryco, a paving contractor, which utilizes the property as a corporation yard and is totally fenced. There are no spaces available for the A’s.
14. The last parcel within the one mile limit on the north side of Auto Mall is a closed freight transfer yard (Motor Cargo) on Auto Mall between Boscell and Boyce. It is about 10 acres in area and could be converted into around 1350spaces if it were acquired and converted to parking lot. If it resumed use as a freight forwarder, no spaces would be available since they operate 24/7. A temporary use could yield between 700 and 800 spaces on site, but I did not count that since I don’t believe the site will remain in its current condition until a stadium is built.
15. On the south side of Auto Mall are two sites on Boscell at Bunche, Fremont Pediatrics and the industrial facility directly adjacent. Combined, there are 250 spaces on these sites, 51 and 199 respectively.
16. On Brandin Court off of Christy, there are six parcels which have a total of 702 parking spaces. One parcel has an additional 86 spaces fenced off behind the building. I did not count these as available.
17. The last non retail parcel within the one mile limit is the Perkin-Elmer and American Portwell Complex at the end of Christy, between the freeway and the ball park site. This area contains about 533 spaces.

The prospects of finding more than 4000 parking spaces within a mile of the stadium are bleak. To accomplish that number, the A’s would need to contract with virtually every property within the one mile range.

The parking issue remains unresolved and, failing resolution, dooms the project to failure. Also, the flippant “…20,000 parking spaces in the one mile radius” response raises questions about other responses from the A’s to other questions. One which I will address next is “The traffic from our project will be no worse than what has already been approved for the site.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

The A's Poll

The Argus reported on a successful poll commissioned by the A's, saying a huge percentage of the respondents supported the project. I don't know how the poll asked the questions and I don't know at what stage the positive response was generated, but in a poll such as this, they generally ask the support/oppose question three times.

The first time is the base line for the poll. Do you know about the project? If yes, do you support it or oppose it? Strongly or somewhat?

Then they would question about either the positive or negative elements asking if that issue would make them more or less likely to support or oppose the project. Then they ask the baseling support/oppose question again. They continue the poll presenting the other side, and ask the final support/oppose question. That is the key answer.

It is just like a political campaign, running both sides of the issue and seeing what is important to the voter, especially directing what issues to stress and which to downplay.

At this point, it is too early to lock into numbers since there is so little data available. I saw a poll earlier this year which asked if people support the ballpark project with 2900 homes and a Santana Row type shopping center. The result was 50% positive, 42% negative, and 8% undecided. In the 50% positive, most were somewhat positive rather than strongly positive.

If this were an election campaign, a consultant would love to be on the "NO" side of the issue. Those opposed to the stadium plan will always be opposed and all the consultant would have to do is sway the "somewhat supporters." That is not a difficult task, especially since he would only need sway a relative handful, 5% of the electorate.

I wouldn't get too excited about any poll at this time. The data will drive the PR program and it will be difficult to put a positive face onto a traffic nightmare.